The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Although I am an ordained deacon of the Catholic Church, the opinions expressed in this blog are my personal opinions. In offering these personal opinions I am not acting as a representative of the Church or any Church organization.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Homily: Wednesday, 6th Week of Easter

Readings: Acts 17:15, 22- 18:1; Ps 148; John 16:12-15
I’ve always found it interesting that many scriptural scholars seem to consider Paul’s visit to Athens to be a failure. Indeed, last night I checked several different commentaries and some actually use the word “failure” when discussing the event we heard described in today’s first reading from Acts. To justify their opinion that Paul had failed, they highlight the fact that as a result of his visit only a handful of Athenians were converted to Christianity.

Several made excuses for Paul, claiming he really wasn’t equipped intellectually to deal with the Athenians. Greece, they argue, was the birthplace of philosophy and its people were well educated not only in philosophy, but in the sciences as well. Converting them would be a significant challenge for anyone; but for Paul, a provincial Jew…well, he was probably in way over his head.

When I read things like this, I come away amazed at the intellectual arrogance of so many of today’s so-called scholars. It’s almost as if they are saying, “Well, if only Paul had been educated like me, he might have had more success.” We hear a lot of that these days, seemingly based on a kind of temporal bigotry, the idea that we who live in the 21st century must certainly be smarter than those first-century rubes. Look at us, we have universities and think tanks and computers and iPads and the New York Times. And what did they have? Not much.

I also suspect more than a few of today’s scholars relate more closely to the Athenian philosophers than to Paul. To their way of thinking, Paul failed because he tried to address them as another philosopher, and obviously they saw through the charade. The trouble is, by belittling Paul they lose sight of what he actually managed to accomplish in Athens.

Did Paul misread the philosophers’ idle curiosity as sincere interest? Perhaps. But more likely, Paul believed that philosophers could be converted only by taking a philosophical approach. Paul was no stranger to Greek thought and argument. He was, after all, a citizen of “no mean town” as he called his hometown, Tarsus. Tarsus was a thoroughly Hellenized community in Asia Minor – a center of culture, philosophy and education, a center of Stoic and Epicurean philosophy in the Eastern Empire. Even though he boasted of his Jewish and Pharisaic roots, and of his instruction by Gamaliel, he could write and speak Greek well and was a Roman citizen from birth. If not himself Hellenized, he was reasonably well versed in Greek culture.

And so Paul’s “philosophical” approach in Athens was not necessarily out of character. On the contrary, given his background and his unique audience, he’d be wise to address the Athenians on their own terms. That we never see him using this approach again means only that he was disappointed in the results or he never again met a similar audience. And yet, did Paul really fail in Athens because he converted only a few?

Well, if we believe that we must believe Jesus to be a failure as well. After all, during His ministry Jesus preached to tens of thousands and yet in the end only 120 loyal followers gathered in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. No, the Holy Spirit was there at Pentecost and the Holy Spirit was with Paul in Athens.

Paul knew there was a wide gap between his desire to convert everyone and the results he achieved. But he never despaired. He never believed He had failed. To do so would be to accuse the Holy Spirit of failure. Paul failed in Athens only if “some” conversions constitute failure. But that would be second-guessing the Holy Spirit, wouldn’t it? For in Athens, the Holy Spirit, working through Paul, did exactly what Jesus in today’s Gospel said He would do:
“…the Spirit of truth…will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears…He will glorify me…and declare it to you.”
This, brothers and sisters, is why we should always be open to the Spirit, letting Him guide us in all things. Through the Holy Spirit, we proclaim our ancient faith in the saving death and resurrection of Christ until he comes again. The Lord gives us his Holy Spirit as our divine Teacher and Helper so we can grow in the knowledge and wisdom of God.

It is also why we should never despair when it seems those we love do not respond to God’s Word. The Spirit works in His own time and His own way. As proof of this, consider that one of those few conversions that day was Dionysius, a man that tradition tells us became the first bishop of Athens…hardly a failure, and a pretty good catch for Paul, the tentmaker turned fisher of men.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Loving Enemies

I've hesitated -- perhaps delayed is a better word since it's been weeks -- to comment on the death of Osama bin Laden because it's taken me a while to sort out my thoughts. I believe I can honestly say I was not happy when I heard the news, but neither was I unhappy. Osama bin Laden was a man responsible for the violent deaths of thousands of innocent people here in the United States and around the world. Although he has no doubt already been replaced by another committed terrorist, his actions certainly demanded punishment.

And regardless of the orders the Navy Seals received -- the specifics of which we will likely never know -- I have no problem with the actions of the team members who shot bin Laden. This was not the civil arrest of a criminal carried out by a police swat team; it was a combat operation with the goal of eliminating a key enemy leader. In those circumstances unless an enemy immediately surrenders, he can expect to be killed. In combat one does not shoot to wound.

I suppose my real concern relates to the response of so many when news of bin Laden's death was announced by the president. Since I knew personally several people who died on September 11, 2001, I can understand the collective relief felt by many Americans who had been waiting almost ten years for this news. But the fact that so many people actually took to the streets and publicly rejoiced over one man's death I found a bit disturbing. Yes, I know there was similar rejoicing on VE-Day when the Germans surrendered in May of 1945, but those people weren't celebrating Hitler's death which took place over a week earlier. They were celebrating the end of a long and costly world war, one that had called for a nationwide commitment that affected virtually every aspect of life. But today, were it not for the irritating and often irrational policies of TSA, an American who didn't pay attention to the news would hardly know we've been waging a decade-long War on Terror. And I can't see how the death of bin Laden will have a long-term effect on the current struggle, an ideological war with deep religious roots that our enemies will continue to wage. Anyone who celebrated bin Laden's death believing it meant the end of this struggle is fooling himself.

And so it would seem the rejoicing was personal and reflected happiness over the death of another. It was reminiscent of that scene from the Wizard of Oz in which all celebrate by singing "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead." From a Christian perspective, I believe it's important for us to examine what both Scripture and the Church have to say about all this. One good source is certainly the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus preaches,

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect." [Mt 5:43-48]
And in Luke's Gospel Jesus says pretty much the same using slightly different language:
"But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." [Lk 6:27-28]
Image courtesy of © Daniel W. Erlander, (With minor change in wording by yours truly.)
Following this command of Jesus is a tall order, especially if we've been directly and personally affected by the actions of our enemies. And it's important to understand that Christians traditionally have not interpreted Jesus' words as a prohibition of defensive actions by a state when threatened by others, especially those with evil intent. The Church still teaches that there is such a thing as a "just war." But, following Jesus' teaching, the Church also instructs us not to rejoice at the death of another, regardless of the evil he has committed. Perhaps the Book of Proverbs says this best:
Rejoice not when your enemy falls, and when he stumbles, let not your heart exult, Lest the LORD see it, be displeased with you, and withdraw his wrath from your enemy. Be not provoked with evildoers, nor envious of the wicked; for the evil man has no future, the lamp of the wicked will be put out. [Pro 24:17-20]
And I think the words of Pope Benedict XVI, from his statement issued after bin Laden's death, are particularly relevant:

"Osama bin Laden, as we all know, bore the most serious responsibility for spreading divisions and hatred among populations, causing the deaths of innumerable people, and manipulating religions for this purpose.

"In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred."

The pope, of course, is correct and we would be wise to remember his words. As Christians we pray for the conversion, not the death, of our enemies; and when an enemy does die, we do not rejoice but rather pray that God will bring good from his death. Neither should we wish eternal damnation on anyone, even an enemy like Osama bin Laden. To do so only calls on our Father to judge our own sinfulness with equal severity. After all, do we not pray daily, "...and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us"?

Instead of rejoicing over another's death, or hoping that he be damned, pray for God's mercy. Pray that God will extend to your enemies the same mercy you hope for yourself. And remember, loving another is not an emotion; it's a decision. You and I can make that decision to love our enemy, even an enemy like Osama bin Laden, and do so without liking him.

Pax et bonum...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Understanding and Praying with the Early Christians

I noticed a brief online video report on a new book by a gentleman named Gabriel Larrauri and entitled Praying with the Early Christians. Actually, the book's title is really Los Primeros Cristianos since it was written and is published in Spanish. As described in the video (below) it sounds like an excellent book and I trust it will be translated into English soon. (As befitting someone who minored in German, my Spanish is pretty much limited to Hola and Adios.) The author, however, collaborates with an English-language website,, which I recommend to those interested in the lives and spirituality of Christians during the first few centuries after Christ's life, death and resurrection.

If your Spanish is no better than mine, making Senor Larrauri's book inaccessible, I have some other suggestions for you -- books addressing the same or similar subjects. The first is a book I obtained just a few months ago and read all too quickly. I hope to reread it soon, this time a bit more slowly. Written by a Swiss Benedictine monk, Fr. Gabriel Bunge, it examines personal prayer from the perspective of the Church Fathers. Fr. Bunge, though, is no average monk. He has been living a hermit's life since 1980. His book, which I highly recommend, is entitled Earthen Vessels: The Practice of Personal Prayer According to the Patristic Tradition.

Addressing the reasons for studying the prayer life of the Church Fathers, Fr. Bunge writes, "Whoever wants to have 'fellowship with God', therefore, can never disregard those before him who were made worthy of this fellowship!" It is always best to learn from the experts, from those nearest to the source of our faith, those whose lives more closely mirror the life of Jesus Himself.

I have also benefited from two other books, both written by Mike Aquilina, and both addressing the prayer of early Christians. The Way of the Fathers: Praying with the Early Christians is really a collection of the thoughts of the early Church Fathers on prayer and spirituality. It's a wonderful little book that need not be read from cover to cover. You can pick it up and put it down, reading only those entries or sections that appeal to you at the time. It also lends itself to profitable meditation.

The other Aquilina book, Praying the Psalms with the Early Christians: Ancient Songs for Modern Hearts, is a collection of reflections on the Psalms by saints of the early Church. These Psalms -- Aquilina selects just 34 for study -- have been prayed for as long as 3,000 years. Not only were they prayed by Christ Himself, but as Christians we believe they are all about Christ. Indeed, when meditating on the Psalms one can hear the very voice of Jesus Christ speaking to us. One wise man -- I have forgotten who -- once commented that if we lost all of Scripture, except the Psalms, we would still have enough, since the Psalms contain the entire History of Salvation. For those of you who pray daily the Church's prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours, these reflections provide some wonderful insights into the Psalms as they were understood and prayed in the early Church.

I must also mention a third Aquilina book, The Mass of the Early Christians, in which the author explains the early Church's Eucharistic beliefs and practices, and does so using the words of the early Christians themselves. Just as it is today, the Mass, the Eucharistic Celebration, was at the very center of the early Church's worship and spiritual life. And since the Mass is our most perfect prayer, it's only fitting that I should include this book among those focusing on early Church prayer. Read it and come to understand the roots of our worship today. Every element of the Mass as we know it is no different from that which was celebrated at the very beginning of Christianity. It's all there: the altar, the priest, the chalice, the unleavened bread, the Sign of the Cross, as well as the parts of the Mass so familiar to us today. This is truly a wonderful book.

One final recommendation is a book written by Robert Louis Wilken, a man who has a number of books on my bookshelves. Professor Wilken, who teaches the history of Christianity at the University of Virginia, is among the most knowledgeable scholars on the subject. Happily for us, he also writes well. The book is called The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, and in it Wilken examines the evolution of Christian tradition in the early Church, examining the thinking of the early Fathers of the Church on a wide range of subjects. This is a remarkable book that should be read and studied by all those interested in early Christianity.

There are, of course, many other excellent books on the early Church, but these few should provide a nice overview, particularly with regard to prayer and spirituality. They will also whet your appetite and make you want to read more.

I hope you enjoy them.

Pax et bonum...

Homily: 6th Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; Ps 66; 1 Pt 3:15-18; Jn 14:15-21

I think sometimes as we participate at Mass we dutifully bow our heads during prayer but don’t really listen all that well. Distractions come easily, don’t they? Yes, our minds wander to all sorts of places.

For example, how many of us can recall the words of today’s Opening Prayer? Do you remember what we prayed for? Actually, we prayed for joy. That’s right. Today on this 6th Sunday of Easter we asked God to “help us to celebrate our joy in the resurrection of the Lord, and to express in our lives the love we celebrate.”

Joy. How joyful are you? Does your life celebrate your joy in the Resurrection of the Lord? I certainly can't speak for you, but I sure don’t see a lot of joy on your faces out there. And yet, to “celebrate our joy” seems to assume we already have it. And if we don't have it, why not? Perhaps, for some, joy is overshadowed by all the misery and hate and despair that fill our world today. Is joy still realistic in the face of all that? It should be, because our joy in the Resurrection should transcend all the strangeness and sinfulness of our world. Indeed, that's exactly what Christ's Resurrection overcomes.

If joy is absent from our lives, where can we find this Easter joy?

Well, first we need to turn again to the Resurrection of Jesus. This is the source, the very root of our joy. St. Paul was explicit about this: “…if Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty, too, your faith…For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is in vain…”

And so if Christ is not now alive, gloriously alive, alive in the fullness of his humanity right now, then you and I might as well get up and go home. If Christ is not alive our Creed makes no sense – “on the third day he rose again.” If Christ is not alive the words of consecration – “This is my body” – are spoken over a dead, not a living, Christ. And that small piece of bread you receive in your hand or on your tongue – “The body of Christ” – is just a piece of bread, nothing more; that taste of wine is just that, a little wine, and not the cleansing Blood of Christ.

But the truth we celebrate during these weeks of Easter, is that the Jesus who gasped out his life and spilled his blood on that Cross, the Jesus who lay lifeless in the arms of his mother, the Jesus who’s battered body was closed up in that tomb…this Jesus is dead no longer.

Do you remember the closing scene in the musical Godspell, when the apostles and Mary Magdalene ran among the audience shouting for joy? “He’s alive! He’s alive!” Perhaps it’s hard for some of us to recapture the tearful joy of Jesus’ mother when he stood before her gloriously alive. Or the reverent delight of Magdalene near the tomb when He said, simply, “Mary.” Or the awed amazement of the apostles when he came through the locked door and “showed them his hands and his side.” Or the sheer joy, the quiet happiness, of the apostles on the shore when he said, “Come and have breakfast.” Or the disbelief of Thomas before he exclaimed with all his heart, “My Lord and my God!”

But this is precisely the kind of joy we must recapture. As a Christian, it’s not enough that I accept the resurrection of Jesus with my intellect, even though it is inspired by faith. For a true Christian spirituality almost demands that I celebrate it with joy. I must feel it in my flesh, get goose-bumps on my skin, erupt with a joy that can’t be contained.

Have you and I found the risen Christ not simply as an object of belief, not only as an article of the Creed, but as a vibrant man alive with the glorified wounds of his passion? This is where Christian joy can be found, the unconfined Christian joy we celebrate today, the joy we prayed for in our opening prayer.

And this joy we celebrate in Jesus’ Resurrection leads us to another cause for joy: our own resurrection. By this I mean more than the resurrection that awaits us after death, but also our resurrection from sin, the freedom Jesus grants us through his Incarnation, his passion, death and resurrection.

The prophet Isaiah saw it coming when he told the people to: “Speak out with a voice of joy; let it be heard to the ends of the earth: The Lord has set His people free, alleluia!” The Lord has set His people free. Do you believe that? If you don’t, you should.

Listen to the words Father Peter will pray a few moments from now when He prays today’s Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer: “In Christ a new age has dawned, the long reign of sin has ended, a broken world has been renewed, and man is once again made whole.” This doesn’t mean sin is a thing of the past. No, it means sin no longer reigns like a tyrant over us.

With the grace that comes from the passion and resurrection, we are no longer slaves of sin; we can overcome. If we sin, we do so freely. If we truly repent, and seek the grace of the sacrament of reconciliation, we are forgiven. Our brokenness isn’t utterly healed; but with God’s grace we no longer need to be torn within; we should no longer despair over our brokenness. With Christ, we now have forgiveness. We now have hope. We now have salvation.

How did Jesus put it in today’s Gospel? “Because I have life, you also will have life.” This is a promise, brothers and sisters, a promise that tells us where the emphasis of our Christian lives should be.

Our emphasis shouldn’t be on our sinfulness. Not, of course, that sin has fled entirely; for it surely hasn’t. But the reason Jesus came, why he lived and died and rose to glory, why He made it possible for us to triumph over sin, was, in His own words, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

What exactly is this “life” Jesus promises us? Listen again to today’s Gospel passage, the promise of Jesus: “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.” And He goes on to say, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

This is Jesus’ joyful declaration of what it means to be Alive in Christ. It’s the Trinity, the Triune God, dwelling in you as in a home; making you, your very person, a temple of God as truly as is this tabernacle.
You don’t believe me? Well, believe St. Paul. He insists on it: “You are the temple of the living God,” he told the Corinthians, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?...God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

This, brothers and sisters, is what it means for man and woman to be “once again made whole.” Your flesh and your spirit are alive with the presence of the living God, of the risen Christ. This isn’t some romantic, poetic, metaphorical sentiment. This is the Gospel truth! Little wonder Paul could cry out: “If you are in Christ, you are a new creature!” That’s right, this state in which we live is a “new creation.”

Good friends, there are two realities of which we can be certain:

  1. God will ceaselessly surprise us, and not always delightfully; and
  2. No matter how unwelcome the surprise, God is always there – our Father who created us for joy, Jesus who died that we might experience His joy; and the Holy Spirit who generates this joy within us.

Before the Easter season ends, resolve that for you it will never end. An infallible sign that Easter is still yours is the joy that lights your whole being because you are alive – Alive in Christ -- that you rejoice in your very being.

Let’s celebrate this joy by sharing joyously in the central act of our worship: God with us in our gathering; Jesus Christ with us in His Word, and alive on our altar, in our hands, on our tongues, in our hearts.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Pakistan: A State of Persecution

The quality of our nation's relationship with Pakistan, our supposed ally in the War on Terror, has sunk to its lowest point in decades. The Navy Seals' successful operation which resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden was conducted without Pakistani assistance or knowledge because of concerns that any tactical information shared with Pakistan would quite likely make its way to the terrorists. Despite all the rhetoric about Pakistani support in the War on Terror, we obviously do not trust them, and they know it.

Pakistani Bin Laden supporters after his death
The Pakistani government has been very vocal in its condemnation of the Seals' operation because it must appease a Muslim population that has become increasingly radicalized. A majority of the population either openly supports al-Qaeda or the Taliban or is highly sympathetic with their aims. Urged on by extremist mullahs, the people of Pakistan could very well take to the streets and bring about an extreme Islamist state similar to Iran's. We already know that the Pakistani intelligence community has links with both the Taliban and al-Qaeda. And despite the prevailing wisdom assuring us that the Pakistani military would step in to prevent any radical change of government, can the current government actually count on the military's support? Bin Laden, after all, lived for years in a military town, next to door to a major military facility, with military retirees as his neighbors. And nobody knew it? We are fooling ourselves if we believe their military is so Westernized it would openly resist the nation's increasing radicalization. The truth is, Pakistan is already well on its way. It seems the entire country is becoming radicalized.

1 of 47 Christian homes destroyed in one Pakistani village
Further evidence of this widespread popular support for radical Islamist ideology is the increased persecution of Pakistani Christians. Over the past few years Pakistan has become a world leader in the persecution of Christians. In most instances this persecution has been carried out by Muslim mobs, urged on and supported by the mullahs, while police and government officials look the other way. Churches have been looted and destroyed, the homes of Christians are systematically burned down by Muslim mobs, and ministers and priests are physically attacked and murdered. And anyone, Christian or Muslim, who criticizes these violent tactics is subject to the same treatment.

And then there's Pakistan's "Anti-Blasphemy Law" which prohibits damaging or defiling a place of worship, outraging religious feelings, defiling the Quran, or defaming the prophet Muhammad. It also forbids proselytizing by non-Muslims. As written, the law seems to protect all religions from attacks by others; but in reality it is used only to protect Islam. The penalties include fines, imprisonment and death. Although non-Muslims make up only 3% of the population, the vast majority of prosecutions have been of Christians and Hindus. In many instances, the charges result from false accusations brought by those who would benefit financially if the accused were imprisoned or executed.

One recent case is that of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman and mother of five currently under a sentence of death for supposedly making a derogatory comment about Muhammad. Her situation has received worldwide attention. When the governor of Punjab and the Pakistani Minority Affairs Minister came to her defense, both were assassinated. I've addressed Asia Bibi's situation in previous posts:

Persecution Update - Nov 30, 2010
Update on the Fate of Asia Bibi - Dec 1, 2010
 Another Tragic Death: Shahbaz Bhatti - Mar 2, 2011
Another, more sinister, kind of persecution is becoming increasingly common in Pakistan: the kidnapping and forced conversion of non-Muslim women who are then forced into marriage with Muslim men. I could provide details, but suggest you read the story first-hand as published by Christian sisters kidnapped, forced to marry a wealthy Muslim

Is there a solution to Pakistan's growing radicalization, its seemingly constant drift toward Islamist extremism? One Muslim journalist seems to think so, and it involves education and a partnership with Christians. Click here to learn more about this man's prescription to save his country: Muslim journalist advocates public schools along Christian model.  

The courageous Christians of Pakistan are suffering much. Please keep them in your prayers.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Back Home Again

As you know -- if you're a regular reader -- Diane and I spent the past three weeks in Massachusetts visiting our children and grandchildren. Despite the horrible weather, we had a wonderful time making the rounds from Cape Cod to New Bedford and then to North Andover. As we drove south we took the inland route so I could avoid the insanity of I-95. It also allowed us to visit our good friends, Nancy & Joe Hathaway, in Ocoee, Tennessee, as well as a few of Diane's cousins in the Atlanta area. For obvious reasons I didn't spend much time posting things on the blog, but now that we're back home and warm once again, I hope to ease back into my previous routine. I've included photos of all eight our beautiful grandchildren here -- photos I took during our trip -- so you can see what keeps us going north, even when the weather is less than inviting.


Even though we didn't get home until last night, Diane was up at 5:30 this morning so she could resume her duties as the Thursday cook at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen. After running some necessary errands, I joined her and her team of volunteers later this morning. My time at the soup kitchen is what I miss the most when we're away, and so it was wonderful to be there again after our three-week absence. Of course working at the soup kitchen also leaves me with sore muscles, tired feet, and a need for an afternoon nap -- all symptoms of my senior citizenship.

Advancing age has brought with it some other interesting side-effects, one of which is increasing absentmindedness. This morning, for example, my errands included a stop at Sam's Club to pick up two pair of glasses I had ordered before our trip. When I entered the optical shop, one of the opticians greeted me and asked me to take a seat. I told him I was there to pick up my glasses and he immediately went across the room to a cabinet and selected two pair from the hundred or so in the cabinet. He returned, handed me one pair and asked me to put them on. I recognized them as a pair of bifocals I had ordered, put them on, checked them for both reading and distance, and told him they were perfect. I did the same with the other pair, but throughout it all I wondered how he could have known who I was since I had never given him my name. I also knew I had never seen him before. When I ordered the glasses the optician on duty that day was a woman. Finally, as he handed me my new glasses, along with my prescription, and thanked me, I had to ask, "Excuse me, but we've never met. How could you have possibly known my name? I'm certain I never mentioned it." He just pointed to my shirt on which was clipped a name tag from the Wildwood Soup Kitchen. I had attached it there earlier that morning and forgotten to remove it when I left. I'm glad I asked him; otherwise I might have thought he had psychic powers and I really don't believe in such things. It would have been hard to explain, if only to myself.

I've actually come to accept most of these age-induced side-effects. I've never been an extremely physical person but for most of my life was blessed with a good metabolism that kept my weight down and allowed me to stay in shape with only very moderate exercise. This is no longer true, but the fact that I would probably not survive a three-mile jog really doesn't bother me. It does, however, bother Diane, and so tomorrow she is inaugurating a serious diet and exercise plan with the goal of returning me to a more mature version of my former slim, trim and healthy self. I'll try not to cheat or allow my inevitable grumpiness to infect future posts.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Want to be a Techno-Evangelist?

Back when I was in my mid-teens I would often take the train from Larchmont, our Westchester County suburb, to New York City. It was a short trip to Grand Central Station, less than a half-hour, and in those days of low crime rates there was little reason for my folks to worry about my safety. I know I never felt the least bit threatened. Anyway, I never went alone, and was always joined by one or more friends.

On one of these outings, after arriving at Grand Central my friend and I took the subway down to Cortlandt Street in lower Manhattan. The two of us were ham radio fanatics and in those days Cortlandt Street was the home of a number of unique stores where you could buy military surplus radio equipment at very low prices. Called "radio row' the area later became the site of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. After spending our scarce dollars on a few electronic treasures, we strolled around lower Manhattan making our way toward Greenwich Village, stopped to buy a hot dog and orange drink at a local Nedick's (a now-defunct early fast-food chain), and sat in a park to eat and watch the people.
A slice of "Radio Row" in lower Manhattan

It was then and there that I encountered my first street-corner evangelist, a man who seemed pretty old to me at the time. (He was probably in his 50s.) We watched as he entered the park carrying a wooden easel-like stand which he set up at a strategic location where two paths intersected. A sign on the front of the easel read, "Catholic Evidence Guild." He stood on a step behind the sign and began to speak. Completely captivated, I listened as he spoke about Jesus Christ and the promise of eternal life in the Gospel. At the time I had never heard of the Guild which I later discovered was popularized in both England and the US by Frank Sheed and Maisie Ward, the famous husband and wife publishing team who founded Sheed & Ward.

Within a few minutes a small crowd of perhaps ten people had formed, seemingly interested in what this lone, enthusiastic apologist for the Catholic faith had to say. Even my friend Eric -- a Jewish boy from the very upscale town of Purchase, NY -- was impressed and later on, as we rode the train back home, asked me a steady stream of questions about what this street-corner preacher had said. As a product of a Catholic education, I knew a bit more than the basics and answered as well as I could. One thing my friend said has remained with me over the years: "When he began to talk about religion, it just seemed so out of place there in the park. But then listening to him I realized that religion is really about everything, isn't it?"

I found myself revisiting this 50-year-old experience when I read about a conference that will be hosted by Thomas More College in Merrimack, New Hampshire. The conference, "Christ and the New Media", is scheduled for August 4-7 and will focus on the use of new media, particularly the internet, to "serve the Church and spread the Gospel." The Catholic Evidence Guild used -- and I presume still uses -- more traditional means to accomplish these same ends, but the times, they are a-changin'. We can still speak to people gathered in the park to eat their lunch on a nice summer day, but we can reach millions more around the globe through the internet. Websites, Facebook, Twitter, email and, yes, even blogs can help the Church carry out its mission to take the Gospel to those who might never hear God's Word. This is something Pope Benedict has been encouraging from the beginning of his papacy. After all, Christ's call to evangelize is universal; no Christian is exempt. And the internet offers a wonderful opportunity for Christians to respond to the command to evangelize "all nations."

It's too bad the conference isn't being held right now, because we're currently visiting one of our daughters who lives only a short drive from Merrimack. Unfortunately, in early August Diane and I will be on our way to Iowa to attend the wedding of the son of dear friends. But even though I can't be there, it would be fitting for the conference highlights to be published online. We'll see.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dachau Memories & Beatification

There are moments and events in life so intense that one can never forget them. For me one of these events was a visit to Dachau, the Nazi concentration camp near Munich, in December of 1951. I've written about this experience on several other occasions -- on September 27, 2010 and on August 19, 2008 -- but I thought it deserved another visit after reading about the beatification of Fr. Georg Haefner. More on Fr. Haefner later.

My father, an Army officer, was stationed in Heidelberg, Germany and had taken the family on a two-week Christmas vacation to Bavaria that included stays in Munich, Berchtesgaden, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and even a brief visit to Salzburg, Austria. 
American GIs in the remains of Hitler's Eagles Nest
Although I was only seven years old at the time, I can recall vividly many of the places we visited. I remember walking through the shell that remained of Hitler's "Eagles Nest", his alpine retreat overlooking Berchtesgaden, and being struck by the breathtaking view. I also recall my dad commenting that he could not understand how someone could live in such beautiful surroundings and be so filled with hate.

I remember staying three or four days in a charming gasthaus (a country inn) in a small Bavarian village where my brother Jeff and I got to share a room in which the twin beds were equipped with soft, feather mattresses that did all but swallow us. The gasthaus was owned by a couple who so epitomized Bavaria that they were veritable caricatures: he with his sweeping mustache, lederhosen and knee socks and she with her low-cut blouse that revealed much of her ample figure. She apparently took a liking to me because she surprised me several times a day by picking me up and hugging me in a way that more than embarrassed this seven-year-old boy. I tolerated such behavior because she was always giving me sweets behind my mother's back.

We also spent four or five days at a small ski-lodge owned by a family that treated my brother and me like celebrities. Our ski instructor, Horst, a wounded veteran of the war who spent a year in England as a POW, had only one arm but could ski as well as an olympian. He spent every morning with Jeff and me teaching us to negotiate the equivalent of a novice slope. He also accompanied us and our dad on daily hikes along mountain paths and through the surrounding forest. I especially remember the joy I experienced when my parents bought me a pair of leather boots that looked just like the boots Horst wore when we went hiking. I felt very grown-up that day when I put on my new Bergschuhe (or mountain boots).

As our Bavarian vacation neared its end, we spent a few days in Munich, including a visit to the city's famous Hofbräuhaus, where Dad and I joined a thousand Germans singing the beer hall's signature song: In München steht ein Hofbräuhaus... As I recall my more introverted mother and brother were a bit embarrassed by our enthusiasm. Mom was also upset when Dad rewarded my performance with a sip of beer from his large one-liter mug. I've had a distinct preference for German beer ever since. Here's a video on the Hofbräuhaus made by European travel expert, Rick Steves:

Dachau Gas Chamber
But my most distinct memory, and one not nearly so pleasant, is of our last day in Munich. Dad drove to the suburb of Dachau to visit the concentration camp where so many innocents perished. The war had ended only six years before and the camp was largely unchanged. As I recall, at the time, in the early 50s, much of the camp was being used to house some Nazi prisoners as well as refugees, but Dad was able to obtain permission to view certain sections of the camp. I remember the gas chamber as well as the ovens used to dispose of the bodies of those who were murdered or who died of starvation and disease. That experience engendered in me a lifelong prejudice against cremation. We walked through one of the barracks used to house the political prisoners and could imagine the horrible conditions under which they were forced to live. 

These and other Dachau memories are among the most vivid of my childhood. And I relived many of them the other day when I read of the beatification of Father Georg Haefner, a German priest  who died of starvation and disease at Dachau in 1942. Dachau contained a "priest-block" where priests and other ministers were segregated from the rest of the camp's population so they wouldn't pollute them with their religious views. 

Speaking of Fr. Haefner, Pope Benedict said, "In the confusion of National Socialism, Georg Haefner was willing, as a faithful shepherd, to protect his flock and deliver the sacrament and the water of life to many people, until the end of his life. He forgave his tormentors from his heart, for as he wrote to his parents from prison: 'Let us seek to be good with everyone.' Let us entrust ourselves to his intercession, so that we too may hear the voice of Christ, the good shepherd, and so be led to life and joy in abundance."  Blessed Georg's feast day will be celebrated on August 20, the day of his death.

To get a sense of what it was like to be a Catholic priest imprisoned at Dachau, read Fr. Jean Bernard's memoir of his time as a Dachau inmate: Priestblock 25487: A Memoir of Dachau. It is a marvelous and moving book. 

I've included a slide show of the day Dachau was liberated by US troops.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The New Egypt...Islamist or Secular?

In case you haven't heard, the so-called "Arab Spring" that has swept across much of northern Africa and the Middle East just might be transformed into an Islamist Winter if groups like the Muslim Brotherhood have their way. 
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood
The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, is the organization from which sprang virtually all Islamist radical movements. It's motto is a succinct statement of its aims: "Islam is the solution." In the words of its founder, "The Qur'an is our saber, and martyrdom is our desire. Islam is faith and cult, religion and state, Book and sword. As a universal religion, Islam is a religion good for any people and in any time of human history." (For more info on the Brotherhood, check out this Weekly Standard article.)

Almost from the beginning the Brotherhood has advocated resorting to jihad -- that is, war -- not only against non-Muslim societies, but also against Muslim regimes it believes have betrayed the Islamic cause. The Brotherhood has a significant reach, having spread its influence not only throughout the Muslim world, but also among the Muslim populations of Europe and the U.S. For years the Brotherhood was the best organized opposition group in Egypt, making it well-suited to capitalize on the political chaos that followed Mubarak's ouster. Interestingly, the Brotherhood's English-language website is wonderfully sanitized, presented in a way that makes them sound almost moderate, but omitting their radical statements that are openly pronounced throughout the Muslim world.
The Muslim Brotherhood's Founder, Hassan al-Banna
Today the Muslim Brotherhood seems to be assuming a leading role in the evolution of the new Egypt being formed out of the now-defunct autocratic rule of Hosni Mubarak. Most knowledgeable observers are saying that the Brotherhood's candidates may well receive strong support from the electorate in the scheduled September elections. And so there's a real possibility of the creation of a radical Islamist state in Egypt, an outcome that would be tragic for both Egypt and the rest of the Muslim world.

One bright spot is the recent meeting of 1,500 of Egypt's moderate leaders who came together for the sole purpose of counteracting the Muslim Brotherhood and transforming Egypt into a secular state. According to Fr. Rafik Greiche, of the press office of the Catholic Church of Egypt, “A coalition of moderate parties is the only way to stop the progress of radical groups, and avoid the creation of a confessional state." Not only would such a state create another base for global terrorism, but according to Fr. Greich it would also have serious societal consequences. The radical groups support a fundamentalist application of Sharia law in which women would not be permitted to work or even leave their homes. According to Fr. Greich, “A takeover by radical Islamic parties would especially hurt widows and women abandoned by their husband because they would not be able to maintain their children." Aware of this possibility, many Muslim women in Egypt have joined with Coptic Christians openly protesting against the idea of an Islamic state and calling for a distinct separation of religion and government.

Egyptian Christian and Muslim women protest in front of the state television building in Cairo

For those who are ambivalent about the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood, it might be revealing to realize that the Brotherhood, along with other jihadist groups in Egypt, have declared Osama Bin Laden a hero and a martyr for Islam. (See this article in The Atlantic.) Accompanying this talk has been a significant increase in anti-Christian propaganda and an upsurge in the persecution of Christians, some of it deadly. According to Fr. Greich, “Muslim leaders are calling Christians infidels, who have no right to representation in parliament...An atmosphere of psychological terrorism is causing fear in people who want democracy, driving many out of the country." (See this article, Give Us Back Our Church.)

As the protests grew in intensity and spread throughout the Islamic world, many in the West were all excited about the "Arab Spring" and its possibilities. It would, however, be well to remember that the law of unintended consequences can bring about a whole other set of possibilities, many of them not very pleasant. Here's a video of a news report that addresses this:

If you want to better understand modern Islam and its relationship with the non-Muslim world, I recommend reading 111 Questions on Islam, a wonderful book by Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, a Jesuit who grew up in the Muslim world and is one of the Church's (and the world's) most knowledgeable scholars on Islam. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Pope in Venice...Revisited

Yesterday I received an email from a friend who asked that I provide more information about Pope Benedict's  visit to Venice last week. Revisiting my earlier post, I have to agree that I wrote much more about my earlier visits to the city and very little about what the pope had to say. I trust the following will rectify this...

During the course of his remarks to the 300,000 people gathered to hear him, Pope Benedict began by telling them: “Dear brothers and sisters! I have come among you as the Bishop of Rome and successor of Peter’s ministry to confirm fidelity to the Gospel and communion.” He then reaffirmed that we must give hope to our modern world by "listening and loving the Word of God...As in the past, when those churches were known for apostolic zeal and pastoral dynamism, so today we need to promote and defend the truth with courage and unity of the faith. You must give an account of Christian hope for modern man, often overwhelmed by vast and disturbing issues that arise in crisis and shake the very foundations of his being and his activity.”

At Venice's beautiful St. Mark's basilica, he preached on the day's Gospel, St. Luke's description of the encounter between the risen Jesus and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Luke's account relates how the disciples shared their sadness and grief after the crucifixion, attitudes the pope said mirrored the attitudes of many Christians today: “The disciples of today are moving away from the Jerusalem of the Crucified Jesus and the Risen Lord, no longer believing in the power and the living presence of the Lord...The problems of evil, pain and suffering, of injustice and oppression, lead today’s Christians to similarly say, 'we were hoping that the Lord deliver us from evil, pain, suffering, fear, injustice.'"

Pope Benedict went on to suggest that the solution to such despair was the same today as it was for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus – listening to Jesus and receiving him in the Eucharist, “the breaking of bread.” Like the Emmaus disciples, we must first listen to and love God's Word, "reading it in light of the Paschal Mystery, for it warms our hearts and enlightens our mind, and helps us to interpret the events of life and give them meaning."

The pope went on to say, “Then, you must sit at the table with the Lord, to become his guests, so that his humble presence in the Sacrament of his Body and his Blood we restore our eyes of faith, to look at everything and everyone through the eyes of God, in light of his love.”

He concluded by urging Catholics to uphold the Christian values of their forebears and to set “new missionary objectives” for themselves including building “bridges of dialogue between peoples and nations.” 

As always it was a wonderful message, one we should all take to heart. It's so easy to live our Christianity as if it's strictly a personal thing between God and us as individuals. Doing so leads us away from the call to evangelize, the call to take Jesus Christ and His Church to others, "to all nations, baptizing them...teaching them..." As the pope is fond of reminding us, the Church is "communion", a communion with God and with each other.

Wendell Berry

Recently I've been reading some of Wendell Berry's work, in particular his essays and poetry. I was first drawn to him because of his name. I have both an uncle and a cousin with a similar name -- Wendell Barry -- and Diane's mother had the maiden name of I was curious about this American man of letters.

Perhaps I'll write more about him in a future post, but this morning I'd simply like to offer you a small sampling of his verse, a short poem I read a few moments ago as I waited for Diane to get ready for breakfast:

I know that I have life
only insofar as I have love.

I have no love
except it come from Thee.

Help me, please, to carry
this candle against the wind.

God's peace on this beautiful gift of a morning...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

On the Road Thanksgiving

We're still on the road, up in New England making the rounds by visiting all the grandchildren and trying mightily to leave them a bit more spoiled than they were when we arrived. After our first week on Cape Cod visiting our elder daughter, her husband, and their five little ones, we've spent the past four days with our elder son, his wife, and our one-year-old granddaughter. Our routine didn't vary much, regardless of whom we were visiting. As doting grandparents we arrived each morning, played with grandchildren, took them out to eat a few times, enjoyed a picnic and a day at the zoo in Providence, played some more, and generally had a delightful time. Tomorrow we leave for North Andover, Massachusetts to visit our younger daughter and her family (husband and two boys) before heading back to Florida.

This morning, being Sunday, Diane and I attended Mass at St. George's Catholic Church in Westport, Massachusetts, just about a mile from our hotel. The celebrant, a priest who was brought up in the parish and has been ordained for ten years, had never celebrated Mass at St. George's until today. He had come this morning to baptize his grand niece and so we had a special treat right after the homily as we all celebrated the baptism of this beautiful little child.

After Mass Diane and I sat down for breakfast at a highly acclaimed local restaurant which neither of us thought worthy of the acclaim. Although the breakfast wasn't particularly noteworthy, there was a lot of it and so exceptional quantity and excellent service trumped the decidedly unexceptional quality and I left the restaurant happy. Later on we took our son and his family out to dinner at a local steak house and then played some more with our granddaughter. We finally returned to the hotel at 9 p.m., almost past our bedtime.

I suppose I shouldn't complain too much about the quality of the restaurant meals we consume during our trip. We should be thankful for our daily bread since so many do without. I was actually thinking about this last night after Evening Prayer. So much of my personal prayer is devoted to petition, always asking God for help or to fulfill my wants which I cleverly disguise as needs. A brief review of my past and current life and all its blessings should lead me to devote most of my prayer to thanksgiving. And yet, how infrequently I seem to thank God. Perhaps a daily prayer of thanksgiving, especially at night before bed, might help me  come to accept my total dependence on Father, Son and Spirit and the love of the Holy Trinity. Maybe this...
I thank you, Father, for life,
for the gift of my very being.
I thank you for this world
and for the incomprehensible
beauty and depth and breadth
of your creation.
I thank you for your love,
the love that is first cause,
the reason for all being,
a love that takes us beyond ourselves
and gives us hope for eternity.
I thank you for those I love
and for those who love me,
all brought into my life by you.
And, Father, I thank you
for your most remarkable gift,
the gift our your only Son.
What a display of love!
You let him humble himself
and by so doing lift us
to a dignity far beyond our worth.
I thank you, Jesus, for you,
the creative Word of God,
who became God's incarnate Word.
Yes, I thank you for the Incarnation,
the event of events
which binds all history,
the only event that makes sense
of every atom and moment of creation.
I thank you for your revealing Word,
the Sacred Word of Scripture,
the Apostolic Word of Tradition.
I thank you for the Gospel, 
for the Word made Love.
I thank you for your sacrifice,
the inexplicable giving of yourself
for my salvation and that of all.
I thank you for your Easter gift,
the gift of hope,
for extending our desperate lives
to eternal lives,
for your Resurrection and ours.
I thank you, Spirit, for your love,
for your unutterable groanings,
for love and life within the Trinity,
a love that offers a taste
of the Three Who Are One.
I thank you for your wisdom,
the gift you share with us,
the just-for-the-asking gift
that brings us understanding
and knowledge and counsel,
I thank you for the fortitude
you offer when courage runs
and hides and I with it,
when standing behind me
you seem so distant.
I thank you for offered piety,
a piety I so often fail to grasp.
I thank you for letting me
grow in fear of the Lord,
for the love that makes me
not want to offend you.
I thank you, Trinity, for all this
and for all that I will never know
until, through your mercy,
I enter into your life.
Praise God, now and forever...

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Pope visits Venice

Pope Benedict recently spent a day in Venice during a two-day trip to northern Italy. While there he spoke to large crowds -- crowds that far exceeded the population of Venice itself -- encouraging the faithful to be witnesses to the Christian faith. In the course of his homily he made the good point that all too often we Christians act less like Jesus and more like the dispirited disciples on the road to Emmaus [Luke 24:13-35].

Recall the words of those two disciples as they described their disappointment after Jesus' death:  "But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel..." We were hoping. But lacking faith their hope had died. The pope rightly compared this lack of faith and hope to our modern world and the thoughts of so many Christians of week faith:
“The problem of evil, sorrow, and suffering, the problem of injustice and tyranny, the fear of others, of strangers and of those who come to our lands from afar and seem to threaten who we are, leads Christians today to sadly say: 'We were hoping that the Lord would deliver us from evil, from sorrow, from suffering, from fear, and from injustice.”
He went on to urge us to live our faith, for by doing so we turn despair into hope, sadness into joy. A joyless Christian is a contradiction in terms, and if we are living joyless lives we must pray for a conversion to joy.

I've included a brief video describing Pope Benedict's visit:

Our hotel (right) in Venice
Pope Benedict is obviously more disciplined than I, for although I once visited Venice for just one day (back in 2000), I could never again spend so little time in such a wonderful place. Indeed, five years later, in November 2005, Diane and I spent almost a week in Venice, one of the world's most unusual and beautiful cities. At the time I tracked down a "good deal" that led us to a lovely and relatively small boutique hotel, the Liassidi Palace, in the Castello district.

Since then this little hotel has become far more popular and its rates now far exceed our budget. But six years ago it was affordable. It is also in a perfect, central location that provided the perfect headquarters for our exploration of the city. 

And Venice is a great city of exploration. Everything slows down in Venice. There are no cars, no trucks, no roads. Instead the city moves by gondolas and motor boats via a remarkable system of canals that replaces the roadways and subways we find in most modern cities. In so many ways Venice, of course, is no modern city and that seems to be its greatest attraction.

Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge
When in Venice one realizes quickly that the means of transportation are really the modern world's most evident signs of "progress." And so on the surface Venice appears to be anything but modern. Like most other cities and towns, Venice has telephones, television, wifi, and most other modern conveniences, but these communications infrastructure elements are far less obvious than the ubiquitous canals. When in Venice, then, the visitor must adjust expectations and accept that getting around will take more time than usual. Fortunately the city is not large and is well suited to walking. And this is how Diane and I spent our six-day visit.  We walked everywhere, absorbing and visually inhaling this old city and its unique attractions. For six days life slowed down and we actually took the time to observe this small slice of the world, up close and personal.

My only regrets? We stayed just six days and we visited in November. God willing we will travel again to Venice. I hope only we can find a way to afford a ten-day visit and do so during the warmer months. 

My advice? If you go to Italy, be sure to include a stay in Venice.

God's peace...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cape Cod Memories

Diane and I lived on Cape Cod for 25 years, and raised our four children there before retiring to Florida in 2004. Even before I moved to the Cape, it had long been familiar to me. Indeed, some of my earliest memories include family visits to the Cape when I was just a little guy. Eventually, in the early sixties, my parents decided to settle on Cape Cod in the lovely town of Chatham. I visited them often during my college days and later with Diane and our growing family. And so it was always a special place for me and somewhere I hoped one day to live. When the opportunity arose in 1978, Diane and I decided to make the move from Southern California.

During those 25 years on Cape Cod we lived in the village of Harwich Port, in a big, old, rambling house situated about 100 yards from both Nantucket Sound and Wychmere Harbor. The oldest section of the house was built in the early 19th century, with other rooms added over the years. I often jokingly described our home as "11 one-room houses hammered together" -- actually a fitting description. Despite its age and the frequent problems with which such an old house presented us, it was a wonderful place to live and bring up our children. But once they were grown and on their own, we decided it was time to downsize and head south where we'd never again have to endure another New England winter. 

When I was younger, I enjoyed all four seasons, especially winter, but with age the cold weather began to take its toll on both my body and my psyche. And the thought of shoveling snow just didn't mesh with my retirement plans. Of course our decision to retire to Florida was at least partly influenced by Diane's Florida roots. She is a fifth generation Floridian who willingly and amazingly agreed to live in the cold north until her husband saw the error of his ways. I suppose it was only fair that I should follow her south as she had followed me north.

Our decision to move south at retirement was, however, driven as much by the Cape's high cost of living as by the lure of warm weather. When as a child I first visited Cape Cod back in 1950, it was a very different place, a string of rural, seaside villages much more like the idyllic spot described in the vintage Patti Page song. 

Since those early days the population has grown, the larger towns have become urbanized, and the old conservative Cape Codders have died off, replaced by transplants (like me) seeking the good life. The physical and political landscape of Cape Cod has changed and many of the small towns have sacrificed their charm. But even with the inevitable changes, Cape Cod continued to offer the good life to those who could afford it. Sadly, as the cost of housing and tax rates rose to ever increasing highs, many people found living on Cape Cod to be prohibitively expensive. It certainly affected our decision.

I suppose we were also influenced by the gradual disappearance of so much that for us typified Cape Cod. For example, when we first moved to Harwich Port, Diane and I would often walk to the neighboring Thompson's Clam Bar, and enjoy a cold drink and a plate of littleneck clams, perhaps the tastiest little critters God ever placed in the sea. The Thompson brothers' establishment was a true Cape institution, and anyone who visited the Cape back in those days likely enjoyed a meal at the Clam Bar in Harwich Port, probably because they had heard its ad on local radio and been captivated by the catchy little jingle that every Cape Codder knew by heart. You can listen to the jingle below. Alas, Thompson's Clam Bar no longer exists, but their jingle can still be heard on YouTube.

And now, here we are, visiting Harwich once again, staying in the home of our dear friends, looking out the window at the rain and wind and wishing it were about 30 degrees warmer. Wait a is 30 degrees warmer, in Florida.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Camilla's First Holy Communion

201105-Camilla - First Communion by deacondanaThis morning our granddaughter, Camilla, made her first Holy Communion at her family's parish church, St. Francis Xavier Church, in Hyannis, Massachusetts. Diane and I joined our daughter, our son-in-law, and Camilla's four brothers, and filled an entire pew. We were certainly privileged to attend this special Mass, which was celebrated by the pastor who preached a wonderful homily to the children. Camilla was also chosen to place the crown of flowers on Mary's statue just as Mass began.

After Mass we all joined the other first communicants and their families for a little celebratory gathering in the church hall. And then it was time to extend the celebration back at our daughter's house, a celebration that included a special cake in the form of a cross and a few gifts from close family and friends. Diane and I gave Camilla a rosary, blessed by Pope Benedict XVI, which we bought in Rome last November.

It was a glorious day, and Camilla was truly happy to have received our Lord for the first time in this very special way.